I recently attempted to investigate interspecific patterns in ecological traits of Australian snakes using univariate statistical techniques (Shine 1994), but high intercorrelations among variables (especially with mean adult body size) made it difficult to interpret the observed patterns. In the present paper, I attempt to tease apart causal factors using multivariate (path) analysis on the same data set (103 species, based on dissection of >22000 museum specimens). Two separate path analyses were conducted: one that treated each species as an independent unit (and thus, ignored phylogeny) and the other based on independent phylogenetic contrasts. Path coefficients from the two types of analyses were similar in magnitude, and highly correlated with each other, suggesting that most interspecific patterns among traits may reflect functional association rather than phylogenetic conservatism. Path analysis showed that indirect effects of one variable upon another (i.e., mediated via other traits) were often stronger than direct effects. Thus, even when two variables appeared to be uncorrelated in the univariate analysis, this apparent lack of relationship sometimes masked strong but conflicting indirect effects. For example, a tradeoff between clutch size and offspring size tends to mask the direct effect of mean adult body size on clutch size. Path analysis may also suggest original causal hypotheses. For example, interspecific allometry of sexual size dimorphism (as seen in Australian snakes, and many other animal groups) may result from a strong effect of another allometrically-tied trait (offspring size) on growth trajectories of females.
- 1 - sciences appliquees, technologies et medecines
- 2 - sciences biologiques et medicales
- 3 - sciences biologiques fondamentales et appliquees. psychologie
- 1 - Life Sciences ; 2 - Agricultural and Biological Sciences ; 3 - Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics